Plan to legalize marijuana in Michigan pushes ahead

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Lansing — A ballot proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Michigan is gaining steam as the group raises more money and boasts it has gathered half of the signatures needed to put the issue before voters in 2018.

A national marijuana advocacy group that helped legalize marijuana in other states is leading the charge for a Michigan plan to let people smoke without fear of legal repercussion. So far, the “coalition to regulate marijuana like alcohol” has raised more than $818,000 in combined direct and indirect contributions, according to the latest campaign filing with the Secretary of State.

The ballot committee, led by the Marijuana Policy Project, reported $518,288 in direct contributions and more than $300,000 in-kind contributions — goods and services bought for the initiative rather than directly donated.

“We continue to be ahead of schedule on our signature efforts; our fundraising is going strong and keeping up with the pace needed to maintain our paid signature collection,” said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the committee and a senior vice president of public relations firm Truscott Rossman.

“We’re roughly halfway there,” Hovey said.

The petition drive is opposed by a group called Keep Pot out of Neighborhoods and Schools. Attorney Gary Gordon, representing the opposition group, has argued the proposal would not actually regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Dr. Michael Mullins, a panelist on an opioid epidemic forum in Lansing last month, said marijuana can be a gateway drug to heroin.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Hines has criticized the use of marijuana.

“I find the easy access to marijuana in our society alarming,” Hines said in a statement this week. “As a medical doctor specializing in obstetrics, I’ve treated women who have decided to use marijuana to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. This concerns me greatly because little is known about the effects of marijuana on the development of the baby.”

The group is paying for a massive network of signature gathers across the state and others to check the signatures and verify their legitimacy.

“We’re really encouraged by the outpouring of support that we’ve received,” Hovey said. “The campaign continues to get emails and phone calls every day from people around the state who realize that marijuana prohibition has failed.”

Jeff Irwin, the committee’s political director and a former Ann Arbor state representative, said the goal is to redirect money that Michigan spends on the criminal justice system related to marijuana and use extra tax revenues the state would earn to boost funding for schools and fixing state roads.

He said he also sees it as a way to fight back against a disproportionate number of young black men going to prison.

“Prohibition has been a massive, costly failure,” Irwin said.

Irwin said a preliminary economic analysis for the campaign committee by the Marijuana Policy Group argues that the state’s marijuana market could be a booming $2 billion a year based on data from Washington and Colorado, which both legalized marijuana for recreational use.

That could mean more than $200 million in extra state revenue for Michigan lawmakers to use mostly for schools and roads, Irwin said. The group is planning a more detailed economic analysis later.

The plan would offer an avenue for marijuana growers, processors, testing facilities, transporters and retail stores to be licensed to sell marijuana for recreational use. It would also allow small boutique businesses similar to microbreweries that could grow up to 150 plants and process, package and sell in-house.

Irwin said the plan offers “complete control” to local governments to allow or stop marijuana shops from doing business.